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Gold Coast, Australia, June 2013

Wednesday, December 18th, 2013

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In June the family took a short holiday to the Gold Coast in Australia. Took the kids to Sea World and Movie World and whale watching. Not much for photo taking but the whales and the beach sunset on the first day were great.

During the whale watching we got to follow a few whales for almost 45 minutes, and we saw dolphins along side the whales and even a sea turtle. Unfortunately we didn’t see the whales breach but lots of surfacing for air – blow holes, humps and tails.

The beach was amazing, even in the southern winter the water was fairly warm – warmer than the air in fact. We played in the surf a lot, I think that Tori may have enjoyed the time at the beach better than anything else. The beach as Surfers Paradise — and in fact the whole town — reminded me of Gulf Shores and my granddads beach house when I was a kid. Wonderful shallow surf you could wade out in for a long way, sugar sand and all. It just had that small beach town feel, not like the mega tourist beach towns. I will have to take Tori and Livi back again just to play on the beach.

Tel Aviv, Israel, May 2013

Friday, October 18th, 2013

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I spent some time at work in Tel Aviv in May. Not much extra time for sightseeing or photography but I managed one evening walking along the beach. Israel seems to have amazing sunsets daily.

Prague, Czech Republic, November 2012

Tuesday, January 29th, 2013

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I went to Prague for work. Just a few days for a conference, but I managed to slip out for an afternoon before the conference started and a morning before I flew off.

Prague is a beautiful city, and luckily the conference was in a hotel just outside the old town, so that even though I didn’t get much time I was able to walk around the most famous sites. It was an easy, 15 minute, walk from the hotel to old town square and the Astronomical Clock [wikipedia.org] — so hard to read, that’s why they had to put ‘normal’ clocks on both sides of it. When I stopped at the clock there were people talking wedding photos, and not just one couple, but several — one in a horse-drawn carriage and one in a fancy car. And then there was these girls sitting outside the old town hall [flickr.com] with their balloons looking sad, or maybe just exhausted.

A bit further from the hotel, down the cobblestone streets I visited Charles Bridge [wikipedia.org], unfortunately it was a hazy week and I was never able to get a good shot of Prague Castle [wikipedia.org] and St. Vitus Cathedral [wikipedia.org] up on the hill overlooking the bridge and river.

On the other side of the bridge I visited the Lennon Wall [wikipedia.org]. A colorful experience. The wall is interesting mostly in that it is an organic thing, not planned by anyone.

Later I made it up the hill to Prague Castle but only had time to see St. Vitus and take a few shots of Prague’s bridges over the Vltava River. The haze however was horrible, so the only shot that was really worth the hike up the hill was the one of St. Vitus, where the haze looks more like morning fog.

That was the extent of my sightseeing. I didn’t have time to really explore the old city’s sights and between jet lag, the conference and normal work I didn’t even get to go to any of the Jazz bars or pubs. The closest I got was a Pilsner with some of my coworkers one night in the hotel bar. Sad really.

Sydney, NSW, Australia, May 2012

Friday, July 6th, 2012

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I traveled to Sydney (first time to Australia, and first time significantly into the southern hemisphere — Jakarta hardly counts) for work. Didn’t spend much time outside the hotel and customer sites but we did visit Circular Quay one night. Also there was a strange angel alley behind my hotel… Click on the photo to see the full set on Flickr.

Northern Thailand, December 2011

Sunday, February 5th, 2012

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At the beginning of December I joined my wife’s family to northern Thailand; Chang Mai, Chang Rai and Mae Sai. It sounds more exciting that it was. Since it was a packaged tour it was more about shopping than any thing else really. The non-shopping things were mostly not something I would normally do — Elephant show, Monkey show, things like that. Given my stance on animals I would not have gone on this trip at all except that my wife’s whole family goes somewhere every year and we have never joined them. Now that Tori is old enough to go it was more for her than anything else.

The first day we started by visiting Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep [wikipedia.org]. While not the oldest or biggest temple it was at least a working temple and not just a tourist attraction. After the Wat we took a ride further into the hills to visit a Hmong village. Not much to the village mostly just people selling the same crafts and trinkets you could buy most places, only cheaper. They did have a display garden showing a lot of plants that were traditionally grown in the hills — most interesting of all was the small grove of heroin poppies; planted just to show the tourists how heroin is harvested.

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After lunch it was off to the factories; leather, semiprecious stones, paper umbrellas and honey. We didn’t buy much, first day is a bit too soon to spend money. And the factories were not really that interesting anyway.

The second day we visited the Hill Tribe Village, where we saw women from the Karen hill tribes; Long Neck Women are the most famous and the reason everyone goes but we saw a few different traditional outfits. The village is not run by the UN like some of the larger ones, which are really refugee camps. And apparently the UN has warned about the evils of the villages being run as tourist attractions. I don’t know, but the village was a bit sad. The older women seem to be OK or at least resigned to their fate and have not problem with having their photos taken, they will even pose in better places so the light is good. The younger women where more shy. They again the younger women had cell phones and I expect that they know those photos will end up on the internet. The second afternoon was all about not-so-wild animals. Elephants at Mae Taeng Elephant Park. Followed by Monkey and then snake shows and finally tigers (who I think were drugged, as people could pay to sit with the tigers and take photos.)

The third day started early as we joined another tour group and took a large bus to Chang Rai [wikipedia.org], The Golden Triangle and Mae Sai [wikipedia.org]. And on the way we stopped at a hot spring along the highway called Mae Khajan. Where you can buy and boil your own eggs in the hot spring, right after you soak your feet in a less hot part of the spring.

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The only stop in Chang Rai was Wat Rong Khun [wikipedia.org] also known as the White Temple. Rong Khun is modern but it’s stark white exterior is interesting, most Thai temples have a lot of gold but the only part of Rong Khun that is gold is the bathrooms. An interesting juxtaposition. The walls inside the temple are also decorated with all sorts of modern characters on one wall opposite he images of nirvana. All-in-all an interesting place.

The Golden Triangle on the other hand is a tourist trap. The term “Golden Triangle” used to refer to the area centered in Northern Thailand, Vietnam, Laos and Myanmar, so called, as I understand it, because the trade in Heroin was only done in gold. Anyway, these days the Thai tourism office has taken the name as it’s own to refer to the place where the Ruak River and the Mekong river come together forming the boarders of Thailand, Myanmar and Laos. The place is a total trap; just a collection of stalls selling tourist trinkets and bobbles. The government built a large gold buddha to server as the focal point of the shops and restaurants. And you can take a boat trip around the rivers to get close to all three countries. Myanmar’s boarder is dominated by a Thai owned casino and the Lao border is dominated by a Chinese owned casino. But you can’t get to those so easily.

You can however get to Don Sao Island, which is technically in Laos but since it is operated as a tourist trap by the Chinese who have leased all the land up and down the Lao side of the river you don’t need a visa to visit — you don’t even need to show your passport, just pay the toll. There is not much to see on Don Sao island, a few stalls selling things, mostly the same as on the Thai side of the river, but cheaper and some dirty Lao kids playing in between the stalls. Totally not worth the price of the boat ride since you don’t get a stamp in your passport.

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The final stop on the day trip was at Mae Sai. Mae Sai is the northern most point in Thailand, where you can (assuming you have the right visas) walk across a bridge into Myanmar. The size of the street market on the Thai side of the boarder is impressive, stall after stall selling everything you can imagine in a Southeast Asia street market.

On the last day while everyone else slept in I took a ride to one of the markets to see the monks making their rounds to collect offerings for food. I had expected to see the monks walking around and the people giving various offerings. What I saw instead was that the monks just stand around outside the market and people, as they leave the market, buy pre-packaged offering (rice, veggies and a lotus) to give the monks. This makes the whole process seem less exotic and more commercialized. I don’t know why I expected anything different but I did feel a bit disappointed in the end.

All-in-all it was an OK trip. Some interesting things, a lot of things I would not have gone too on my own, and Candice and Tori got to spend time with the extended family on that side. Which was the point. I was not that impressed with what I saw of Northern Thailand, but I guess I should reserve my judgment, maybe if you get off the packaged tour path you can see more really cool stuff.

Istanbul, Turkey, September 2011

Wednesday, November 9th, 2011

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After many years of passing through Istanbul on my way to other places in the region for work I finally made it out of the airport to explore the city. Istanbul was always a destination that I wanted to see, more exotic (in my mind) than Athens, or Rome but just as important in western history — maybe more important. Finally making it I was only able to see the old city itself, the Bazaar and Sultanahmet areas, but that includes most of the major sites; Hagia Sophia [wikipedia.org], The Blue Mosque [wikipedia.org], the Grand Bazaar [wikipeida.org], Topkapi Palace [wikipedia.org] and the Basilica Cistern [wikipedia.org], as well as many other important and historical sites. Unfortunately this was just a visit to Istanbul and I did not make it other places in Turkey that I would like to visit; Ephesus [wikipedia.org], Cappadocia [wikipedia.org], Mount Nemrut [wikipedia.org] and Troy [wikipedia.org]

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But enough Wikipedia links. Lets talk about the city; amazing. The site that has been on my ‘must see’ list for years was Hagia Sophia. It did not disappoint me. My hotel was only a block away and my room had a view directly on Hagia Sophia. I arrived early, checking in at 8AM, well before the room was ready, so I immediately headed over to Hagia Sophia. I spent about three hours just wondering around and exploring the details of this grand building, which started life as the church, was converted into a Mosque and is now a museum. I think it is these layers of history that gives Hagia Sophia an elegance making it more than just a decaying building. It’s older and not as architecturally beautiful as the Imperial Mosques which were modeled on it. Yet, for me, the Imperial Mosques, lack the sense of presence that Hagia Sophia has. They have a single purpose, where Hagia Sophia has been many things to many people.

As for the Imperial Mosques themselves; I visited three of them; The Blue Mosque [wikipedia.org] aka Sultan Ahmet Mosque, The New Mosque [wikipedia.org] and the Süleymaniye Mosque” [wikipedia.org]. Outwardly I thought that the Blue Mosque was the most beautiful. Fitting that it is the closest to Hagia Sophia, and was the first mosque built with Hagia Sophia as the architectural inspiration (as were all the Imperial Mosques and most of the mosques in Istanbul that came after). The inside of the Blue Mosque is overwhelming in its use of tile, particularly the İznik tiles [wikipedia.org], though there are many less exquisite tiles due to the demand the construction put on production. At the other end of the spectrum is the Süleymaniye Mosque, where the use of tiles is much less. The effect is more serene and the extensive and peaceful grounds around the Süleymaniye Mosque are wonderful. I read in the Süleymaniye Mosque is considered the ‘height’ of the Ottoman style, but it was not my favorite of the Imperial Mosques I visited. Somewhere between the Blue Mosque and Süleymaniye Mosque is the “New Mosque” or Yenni Mosque. I’m not sure why I preferred the New Mosque, outside it is similar to the Süleymaniye Mosque though there are no grounds to speak of and inside it has every square centimeter covered in tiles but somehow the overall effect is not overwhelming as it was in the Blue Mosque. The sense of peace of the Süleymaniye Mosque is achieved while keeping the beauty of the tiles. I don’t know why, I just preferred the New Mosque over the others.

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Away from religious buildings the two major attractions I visited were the Basilica Cistern and Grand Bazaar.

The Cistern was very cool. Maybe because I read a lot of fantasy books as a teenager but the setting of an abandoned cistern on the scale of the Basilica Cistern is fascinating. The seemingly endless columns disappearing into the darkness and the sounds of water. Very Dungeons & Dragons.

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The Grand Bazaar on the other hands was a let down. I expected some sort of medieval market but, while the building itself if mostly old, the feeling is not of a genuine historical site but more like a touristy strip mall. Maybe my expectations where unfair but I don’t think they were too off; I expected something more like, but better, grander, than what I found in the old city of Jerusalem [confusion.cc]. The Grand Bazaar is a random collection of the many clones of the same 5 or 6 basic shops and cafe’s — the same ones you can find selling tourist nick-knacks on all the streets around the Grand Bazaar. I was not impressed.

Overall Istanbul as a great time. I wish I had more than a few days, more time to explore more sites and enjoy life in general in a great city. It was actually refreshing that there are not too many Greek or Roman (Byzantium) ruins in the city. Having been around Italy and Greece I’ve seen my share of temples to Zeus or Jupiter and columns and arches. The Ottoman style was something I am much less familiar with. The most obvious Ottoman architecture is the Blue Mosque — or more properly the Sultan Ahmet Mosque which sits almost next to Hagia Sofia.

Jerusalem, Israel/Palestine — July 2011

Friday, September 30th, 2011

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I had a day to take some quick shots around Jerusalem while in Israel for work this July. Not a lot of shots. unfortunately the main thing I wanted to take new shots of — The Dome of the Rock — is off-limits, along with the entire Temple Mount or Noble Sanctuary, to those not worshiping on the weekend. Second best option: climb up the Mount of Olives to take sunrise photos. However… it takes a lot longer then I estimated to climb up the Mount of Olives, so they didn’t turn out to be “sunrise” photos as much as mid-morning photos. C’est la vie. Click the big image to see the rest of the set.

Sunset on the farm

Monday, November 29th, 2010

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That photo may be the last time I ever see a sunset from my grandparents farm. They are not getting any younger and given the cost and time to make the trip to rural Minnesota from halfway around the world I don’t know when I will get the time and change to do it again. I’d like to do it again. My daughter — the driver behind this trip — really enjoyed the farm and the whole trip. And it would be nice for her to spend more time with her great-grandparents. Especially since she is the first great-grandchild.

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When I was growing up I spent a few weeks every other year on my grandparents farm. A lot of things have changed, or at least my perception of a lot of things has changed since I stopped going on family vacation when I was a teenager.

The most obvious change is that my grandfather does not farm any more. He rents the land out. So gone are the cows and tractors that dominated the daily routine when I was a kid. Other changes that I see; a lot less crop diversity than I used to see. Everything was corn and soybean. There were not even that many cows, just a sea of corn and soybean. Interestingly my uncle, who still makes a living farming, says that most of their soybean crop is shipped to Taiwan and Singapore. It’s a small world when you consider that the soybean that turned into my stinky tofu in Singapore might have been planted and harvested by my uncle halfway around the world.

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The other thing that you can’t help but notice is that windmills. Everywhere. I do remember there being one, or two power generating windmills off somewhere to the east the last few times I visited the farm as a kid. Now they are everywhere. And trucks carrying 100 foot blades are all over the roads. Seeing all the windmills gives me a bit more hope that despite the blowhards in Washington and their inability to move beyond the “did we cause it” to the “how to stop it” discussions on global warming (or climate change) that the world is moving on without them. The exploitation of renewable energy sources is proceeding apace in the commercial world; let the politicians blow on.

Click on any of the photos here to see the set over at Flickr [flickr.com].

Athens, Greece — March 2010

Friday, May 7th, 2010

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Candice an I went to Athens for a weekend in March. Why a weekend in Greece? Job interview. But the job is in Boston — don’t ask why the interview was in Greece it’s complicated. I did get the job, I’m in a hotel in Boston as I write this.

When we arrived in Greece the taxis were all on strike, luckily the train from the airport was still running so we could get to our hotel. But given that the city has gone from strikes and protests to riots and firebombs in the bast two days I guess it could have been much worse.

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Flying in on Thursday night and out on Sunday afternoon makes for a short trip and throw in an afternoon for a job interview and we didn’t see too much. But our hotel was within walking distance of Monistiraki, the heart of the tourists sites and the Acropolis. Which was good because the Acropolis was the only “must see” on my list.

I’ve been to Athens before [confusion.cc], a bunch of the people I knew in London were from Athens and I spent a week there in the winter of 2001 [confusion.cc]. I have a lot of film photos from then. I’ll have to dig them out and take a look but in my memory they are actually better then the shots I have from this trip. For some reason the sun was just harsh and the scaffolding was everywhere!

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Anyway, we visited the various sites on and around the Acropolis — the Parthenon [wikipedia.org], the Erechtheum [wikipedia.org]. The ruins of the Agora [wikipedia.org] or Market from the ancient Greek and Roman eras. Which includes the best preserved ancient Greek temple in the world; the Hephaisteion [wikipedia.org] aka the Temple of Hephaestus. We even went to see the Acropolis Museum [newacropolismuseum.gr] which was lacking given that the best of the Parthenon marbles are, um, in London. (Oh yea, it’s like picking at someone’s open wound.)

Really that’s about all the sights we saw. The rest of the time we enjoyed the local food and wondered around the tourist shopping areas of Monistiraki and Syntagma. That’s all the time we had. One day I’d like to see more of Greece than just Athens; the islands and the other big ancient cities of Delphi, Sparta and Olympia. One day. It’s all on the list.

Click on the photos to go to Flickr and see the whole photoset [flickr.com].

Kyoto, Japan — January 2010

Monday, April 5th, 2010

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Another [confusion.cc] trip [confusion.cc] to Japan in the middle of winter. More specifically a trip to Kyoto.

This trip was precipitated by a visit by my mother and sister to Singapore to see my daughter. Since their flight was via Tokyo, they decided to take a stopover and visit the land of the rising sun, a new destination for them to check off. Candice, Tori and I decided to join them.

Even though the flight was to Tokyo we spent the whole trip, sans train rides to an from Narita airport, in and around Kyoto. This was my planning—Kyoto has the highest density of places to see. And while I’d like to see stuff I’ve never had the chance to see it made sense for my mother and sister to see the ‘must see’ sites in Kyoto on their first trip. It also made sense to go to some place I was familiar with to make it easier to get around with Tori. So Kyoto it was.

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We only had 5 days, so we focused on the big must see sites: Nijo-jo [wikipedia.org] the Shogun home, Ginkaku-ji [wikipedia.org] the Silver Pavilion and Kinkaku-ji [wikipedia.org] the Golden Pavilion. Fushimi Inari-taisha [wikipedia.org] and Kiyomizu-dera [wikipedia.org].

In addition to temple and shrine hopping, we spent our evenings wondering the streets of Gion [wikipedia.org] where we spotted not one, but two Geisha. We spotted both Geisha on the same night walking along one of the tea house lined streets. In fact as Tori was playing in a small water fixture next to a door we almost got run over by one of the Geisha when she came out of the door on her way somewhere. No pictures of Geisha though, it was dark and flashing people in the face is not something I am good at.

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It was a good trip with the family, Tori had a lot of fun and I have a lot of photos of her. But overall I did not take a lot of good photos. The winter weather and focus on Tori were not conducive to taking photos. I took a lot of snapshots but few turned into good photos. There is defiantly a bent towards good photos in the morning, less time and attention to the shots as the day went on. Still, I did take a lot of shots and some turned out good. Click on any of the photos here to see the set over at Flickr [flickr.com].